Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good

I was reading a blog the other day, and it kind of depressed me. The writing was pretty mediocre, and the worst part was it didn't have to be. It could have been more. Much more. If the writer had just paid attention.

The post was rife with typos, bad vocabulary, poor grammar, and passive voice. The content was pretty vanilla, too. Sure, the writing was simple and conversational, as most blogs are. But nothing grabbed me.

It was something you would read and then soon forget. And that's what made me sad: the writer could have really wowed the reader, and instead she chose not to.

What would have made the difference? If she had done her homework. If she had read more.

Good Writers Read
Photo credit: KC Toh (Creative Commons)

Different strokes for different folks

I don't want to be disingenuous here; I've said before that there are different styles of writing. Some writing ought to be simple. You shouldn't write pretentiously or with complicated vocabulary if the audience can't relate to it. There is something to be said for a writer's choice of style.

But if your writing is just fluff, the reader will realize it. Even if he isn't an academician or grammar god. People can easily recognize bad writing. Which brings me to my point: writers need to be readers.

Good writers read

Writers need to read. A lot. Magazines. Books. Periodicals. And so on. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.

Nothing inspires a writer like reading someone else's words.

As a writer, you'll find yourself hitting plateaus and roadblocks when you aren't reading. You'll run out of words, if you're not regularly being challenged through books and other material.

This is an important step to becoming a good writer. But for those of you who struggle to follow through with projects (like I do), this may discourage you. You may doubt you can do this. If so, remember:

It's not about finishing

Many people read books to finish them. This is not always necessary. You can and should read books or articles just to read them — to glean new ideas, learn new words, and fall back in love with writing.

Don't worry too much about completion; just start. Here's how you can begin:

  • Don't read to accomplish anything. You don't need to read to finish what you're reading. Just read to read. Don't neglect this discipline. Make reading a habit, a personal passion. And be sure to read widely.
  • Study language. As a writer, words are your lifeblood. Read anything. Just get started. If you don't know where to start, begin with these resources for writers (also, check out 1000 novels every writer should read).
  • Read what others are reading. Not sure where to start? Read what other writers recommend. For more on this, check out the best books on writing. You might want also to read this article: Writers on Reading

Are you ready to get started — to become a student of words once again and fall back in love with the art of language? You'd better be. Because the bottom line is: You can't be the writer you hope to be if you don't read. Time to get started.

So what are you reading? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: KC Toh